Frequently Asked Questions

from Prudence's book Monologue Mastery

1. "How should I dress at the audition? Should I wear a costume that the character I'm playing might wear?"

Whatever you wear should suggest the character, but only slightly. If you're auditioning for a blue-collar type, don't wear a suit. If the character is a little more upscale, wear something dressy. But don't go to extremes, just suggest the character in your attire.

2. "I get very nervous before an audition. What can I do?"

It's important to do relaxation exercises before you go to your audition. Do yoga or deep breathing.

If you're still nervous when you get to the audition, go into the bathroom and jump up and down and shake the nerves out. Or, you can push against a wall to release tension. Do whatever you have to do to relax, because tension tends to murder emotions . Even though your character may be tense, you don't want to be. If you're still jittery, despite all your relaxation exercises and affirmations, incorporate that nervousness into your character. Find a reason for the character to be nervous. Let it be okay to be nervous. The more you try to deny the nerves and make them go away, the more they're going to persist. So just let them be there, and make them part of what you're doing.

There may be distractions in the room which might throw you, such as a drill press in the street, or phones ringing in the middle of your monologue. If you're really concentrating on your character, nothing is distract you. But if your attention is on "Do they like me?" or "What are my hands doing?" these little annoyances can really get in the way of your concentration.

3. "How can I prepare for my audition?

Try to find out all you can about the auditors. If your audition is set up by an agent, you can ask the agent what he/she knows about the casting director at your audition. If you are called directly, ask questions. "What character am I auditioning for?"  " How is that character described?"  " Will I be doing a monologue or reading from the script?"  There are also books that publish interviews with casting directors. In these books, they talk about their backgrounds, likes and dislikes, and their pet peeves. So, do your homework and research your auditors.

4. "I do my preparation before I go into the room, but I lose it if I meet a friend in the waiting room or if the auditors engage me in a conversation. What should I do?"

Don’t engage in lengthy conversations in the waiting room. Wear headphones, even if you're not playing anything. If your preparation involves music, you could be listening to your song. If you meet a friend who wants to talk, ask politely if you could speak to him/her after your audition. The same goes for the auditors. If they start interviewing you before you do your piece, just ask if you can do your monologue first and answer their questions after you've finished. If worse comes to worse, and you have to talk before doing your monologue, just put it on the back burner.

Maybe you've had the experience of being upset about something, even in tears, and suddenly you run into someone who you want to impress. You don't want them to see you crying. So you talk to them, and after they leave, you go right back to being upset. You can do this at auditions, too.

5. "How should I enter the room?"

Enter like a professional. Whatever you do, don't go in apologetically. You can actually get together with a friend and practice entering the room and announcing your pieces. This first impression of you is important. Many actors can't even say their names clearly. Often, they don't know the correct name of their monologue or of the person who wrote it. Make sure you know this information cold. Also, read the play your monologue is from. The auditors may want to discuss it with you. You will not make a good impression if they find out you haven't read it. After you announce your name and the names of your pieces, turn your back to the auditors for a second, and get in touch with your emotional preparation once again. When I say a second , I mean this literally. They will not take kindly to your wasting their time spending a long time getting into your piece. After you have finished your first monologue, turn your back to the auditors for another couple of seconds, and then turn back and begin your next piece. These little technical details can make or break your audition. So be sure to practice them as well as your monologues.

6. " How can I prepare for interviews?"

You should have a story about every credit on your resume. You should be articulate. When the auditor asks, "How was doing Oklahoma at the Barn Dinner Theater in Kentucky?" don't just say, "It was good." Instead, give a response in which they can see your personality. You could tell a little story about doing that show. For instance " The theatre was right near Robert Duval's house, and he came to our opening night." Name-dropping is always good. Most people in this business are a little star-struck. But even if you don't name drop, have a story ready in which you will come alive. Think of stories for everything on your resume, because you never know what they will ask you, and you want to be prepared.

7." I don't know where to look during my monologue. Should I use the auditor or not?"

There are very few auditors who want you to do your monologue directly to them. Most actors like to use them because it's helpful to speak to a real person who will respond. But many casting people say, "No, don't use me, because I want to take notes on you. And I want to observe you. I don't want to have to act with you."

So in that case, find a point on the wall over their heads or just to the left or right. Don't turn so far in either direction that they just see your profile. You want them to see your full face and all your wonderful expressions. Don't put a chair in the corner and direct your speech to the chair. You don't need it. If you feel comfortable asking if the auditors would mind being used, you can do that, too. But be prepared for them to say no. If so, then just look right above their heads.

8. "Should I use props?"

Props are not usually necessary. If your acting is strong enough, I think you can often overcome the need for props. I know actors really love them, but many times, they're just security blankets. There are certain occasions where a prop would help the monologue. But never use one if it makes a mess. Usually it's not necessary, so use a little common sense.

9. "How many monologues do I need?"

Usually, you are asked to do two contrasting contemporary monologues. By contrasting, they usually mean one serious and one comedic, not two very different characters. After you get those together, you need a serious and comedic classical monologue. I recommend doing Shakespeare, because sometimes they specifically ask for a Shakespearean monologue. If you've learned a Moliere or Ben Johnson monologue, then you've got to learn another one.

If you're good at certain kinds of characters that are pretty specific, such as a Southern belle or a homeless man, have those kind of monologues in your back pocket. But don't do them at every audition. They are too specific for general purposes and will put you in too small a box. Some people may be very impressed with the versatility of an actor who could do one monologue many different ways, or with different accents. But you'll probably make your job easier if the writing supports who the character is.

10. "What's the best way to end a monologue and exit the room?"

At the end of your audition, be very professional, thank them and leave. Do not try to engage the auditors in conversation unless they initiate it. Do not ask for feedback. Remember ,they are on a tight schedule and usually don't have time for this.

11. "How can I learn from my audition experiences?"

Keep an audition diary. Write down any feedback you might have received. Write down how you felt or what somebody might have said to you that day. Also, always write down what you were wearing. If they call you back, you might want to wear the same thing. They may remember you as the woman in the purple sweater. So you don't want to confuse them by wearing something different, if they call you back. All this can go into your audition notebook and you can study it later and see what you can learn from it.

12. "Should I avoid monologues that tell a story?"

I think story monologues can work, but you have to have a really strong need behind them. When my son was a little boy, I used to tell him a story every night. The reason I did that was to put him to sleep. You don't want to have that effect at the audition. You want to wake them up and make them pay attention to you.

When I used to sit in on my agents' audition nights. I was amazed at that a majority of the actors who auditioned would just sit in a chair and kind of intone their monologue. They had nothing at stake. It was all on one level. My agent would say to me after they left "I'm not interested in that actor. If they don't care, I don't care."

If you do have a story monologue, be like John Malkovich when he starred on Broadway in the play Burn This several years ago. He had a monologue about somebody taking his parking space. It was a story monologue. He came dashing on stage like he was shot out of a cannon. He was screaming and yelling. Veins were popping out of his head. Yet he was doing a story monologue. However, he had such an incredible emotional connection to the material, such commitment, that the audience was on the edge of their seats.

I urge you if you're going to do a story monologue, don't just be the narrator, but really connect with it emotionally. Don't fall into the trap that nine out of ten actors fall into and simply narrate the piece.

I know that many actors prefer monologues where what the character wants is actually in the writing. You may choose this kind of monologue because you don't have to try and figure out what the character wants. In spite of this, I still wouldn't rule out story monologues altogether, because I have seen some which are very effective.

13. "Should I do a monologue where I am alone on stage rather than ones where I speak to an imaginary person?"

Some of my students have told me that they have had teachers who told them that that should never do a monologue unless they are alone on stage. They cannot be talking to another person. I have not found this to be true, and frankly , I wonder who ever dreamed up this rule.

First of all, if you adhere to this rule, you will have a hard time finding monologues, because most monologues are spoken to someone else.

Secondly, I do not see the benefit in doing such a monologue at all. If you are good actor, you can make a monologue to another person seem real, even if the person is not there.

14. "How should I rehearse my monologue?"

People have asked me if they should practice their monologue in a mirror. Many people become very self-conscious acting for the mirror. They start watching themselves, instead of concentrating on the monologue. I think doing your piece in the mirror kills your spontaneity. But some people find it helpful.

Also, if you're going to do a monologue from a film, don't watch the movie of somebody else doing it, because then you tend to copy that person. You don't want to approach a role with that other performance in mind.

Some people have told me that if they want to watch the movie in which their monologue occurs, they fast-forward through the scene with their monologue in it. Then they don't try to copy the actor who did it.

15. "How long should my monologues be?"

Most monologues are two to three minutes in length. Before you go to the auditions, find out what the time limits on your piece are, if any. If none are stated, do a two to three minute monologue. Sometimes you will be asked to do a one-minute, or even a 30-second monologue. You can either find a monologue of that duration, or you can cut one of your existing monologues down. When you do a very short piece, be sure that it has a beginning, middle and an end, and that it is self-explanatory. Even if the piece is short, you don't want to leave the auditors hanging wondering what you are talking about.

16. "Is it wrong to do a monologue with profanity?"

According to a recent article in the New York Times, many people have become de-sensitized to profanity. The article stated that in previous generations four-letter words were a big taboo, while racial slurs were more accepted. Now the opposite seems to be true.

If you are auditioning for an older person, you may want to keep this in mind, and avoid profanity.

However, I think it depends largely on who you are. For example, if you are perfect for a tough guy in a David Mamet play who uses a lot of profanity, you can probably get away with it. If you usually play very WASPy Park Avenue types, then monologues with a great deal of profanity may not be appropriate for you.

If you have a monologue, which contains profanity, and you are uncomfortable with it, you can try cutting out those words.

17. "Why do they always ask for monologues at auditions? I prefer doing scenes."

Most actors do prefer doing scenes because they have another person there who will give them a reaction. It is definitely easier than talking to a wall. When I first came to New York, there seemed to be more requests for scenes at auditions. Now, the trend is toward doing monologues for a number of reasons.

First, the auditors can focus only on you if you are doing a monologue. If you are doing a scene, sometimes this is more difficult. It's often hard to find a scene that shows off both actors equally well. One of my students auditioned for The Actor's Studio once and was asked to do a scene. The auditors called her partner back and not her. And it wasn't even his audition!

Secondly, the Equity Principal Interviews conducted by the union were eliminated several years ago and replaced by Equity Principal Auditions in which the actors were asked to do monologues. Many other places that held general auditions followed the example set by Actor's Equity.

But don't despair. If you really prepare your monologue, and it fits you like a glove, you have an advantage. Many times you are given scenes with little time for preparation. Sometimes this can work in your favor and you will have a great audition. Other times, it may throw you. Also, the character you are asked to read for may not be right for you.

Most actors think they are versatile, but they all have their limits. Don't you make that mistake of being talked into reading something that doesn't serve your talents well. Remember, it's your audition. Take charge of it in every way you can so that you will showcase your talents.

18. "Can I play a characters of the opposite sex in a monologue?"

Yes, there are some monologues, which are written for one particular sex, but will work equally well when done by the opposite one.

There have been many women who have attempted some of the great male Shakespearean roles , with great success. However, I do not think you should actually dress as the opposite sex at an audition unless your auditioning for avant-garde theater or some specific role which requires cross-dressing.

Some monologues will require no adjustments when done by either sex; however, if you refer to things which are specifically associated with one sex, you may have to make some changes to make it work for the opposite one.

19. "Are there any types of monologues I should avoid?"

Generally, I would not do a monologue from a hit Broadway show that is currently running. Many casting people have probably seen it, and they will compare your performance to the actor doing it. Often these comparisons are not favorable to you.

There are some monologues that are so identified with a particular actor that I would advise against doing them. For example, don't do any of Jimmy Stewart's monologues from Harvey. That movie is a classic, and it would be very hard to top Stewart's performance.

Other types of monologues to avoid are ones that have very graphic, disgusting descriptions. I am reminded of a monologue about someone that aborted her own baby and then served it to her husband for dinner. I doubt that doing that piece will endear you to the auditors.

Also, don't do monologues where you are screaming constantly or threatening the auditors in any way. Often times, they will associate you with your choice of material and be frightened to work with you. I have even heard casting people advise actors not to do monologues about being an unemployed actor who can't get a job, or a waiter or a temp. They feel it sends a negative subliminal message.

20. "Is there any magic formula? What are they looking for in a monologue?"

While there is no magic formula, there are certain general guidelines that do work when doing monologues. I think they want to see who you are in your monologue. They also want to see you come alive and show your emotional range. Whether you make them cry or laugh, you want to evoke an emotional response of some kind from the auditors.

21. "Should I give a description of the circumstances or setting of my monologue before I begin?"

I would advise against this. Remember, they are usually on a tight schedule. Sometimes you are even timed. You may be cut off in the middle of your piece if you have wasted your audition time setting the scene for the auditors.Your monologue should be self-explanatory. This eliminates the need for lengthy explanations. If you need to add a word or a sentence to the piece to make the circumstances clear to the auditors, do that rather than going through a detailed and unnecessary introduction to your piece.

22. "How do I determine the order of my pieces?"

In general, I would do the piece that requires the more difficult emotional preparation first. This way, you can take your time getting yourself in the mood before you enter the room. Then try to do your monologue as soon as you go in, in order to make sure that you stay connected to your emotional state. If you do the more difficult piece second, you will only have a few seconds to get in touch with your emotions. This can be hard to do.

On the other hand, if your first monologue is highly dramatic and at the end of it you are crying hysterically, it could be difficult to instantly switch off the tears and go into a comedy piece.

I think you should experiment and see which order feels most comfortable to you.

23. "What if I'm only allowed to do one monologue? Should it be comedic or dramatic?"

I have heard varying opinions from casting directors on this subject. Some have said that it is depressing to hear one person after another come in and do highly dramatic monologues in which they scream at the top of their lungs or weep buckets. They say they really appreciate someone who comes in and makes them laugh.

Conversely, other casting directors say they can't really see your acting abilities and emotional range in a comedy. They feel dramatic pieces give them a better idea of what you have to offer as an actor.

My advice is, if you are only allowed to do one monologue, find out about the project. If it is a comedy, do a comedic monologue. If it is a serious play, do a dramatic one. However, sometimes it is a general audition, and there are no guidelines to go by. In that case, do whichever piece you feel you do best. Some people are natural comedians, like Eddie Murphy; others, like Meryl Streep are better in dramas. Know your strengths.

24. "How do I stage my piece? Should I follow the stage directions in the script?"

I recommend ignoring the stage directions in the script of a play. They are often written in by a stage manager after the show has been performed for the first time. They are frequently based on the design of the set or blocking of other scenes that are not relevant to your piece. You must create your own blocking based on your experience of the character and the setting in which your audition will take place. In addition to this, you should avoid miming stage business. I have already discussed not bringing extraneous props to an audition. Also, it is not necessary to mime things such as drinking from a cup or lighting a cigarette. The auditors won't know the script says to do that particular business unless you have a line that refers to it. If you do, I would suggest cutting that line. Speaking of cigarettes, never smoke at an audition. Don't even ask the auditors permission. There is a large anti-smoking movement going on in this country right now, and even asking may offend some people. In fact, there are laws in certain states that prohibit smoking on stage. This may be the wave of the future , so don't ruin your audition by getting involved in this controversial issue.

25. "Speaking of controversial issues, what about doing monologues on hot-button topics such as abortion or gay rights?"

If you're uncomfortable talking about these subjects, don't do a monologue about them. However, if you’re the type of person who feels passionate about causes, a monologue on one of these subjects may really inspire you. But again, research your auditors and make your decision based on what you find out about them. In general, most people in the New York theatre scene tend to be pretty liberal. It's harder to shock or offend them than someone from a theatre in a small town in some outlying area of the country.

26. "How can I make my audition really memorable?"

You have to use your creativity and imagination. An actor I know did Portia's monologue from Julius Caesar.

The point is you're not going to please everybody. I think that you've got to follow your instincts. Follow your heart and try to give it your best shot, based on what you do best and how you're most likely to be cast. Be creative enough to break the rules once in a while. Somebody at one of my seminars once said that we have become so caught up in trying to please the auditors, trying to second-Guest them and trying to do the right thing, that we've put a lid on our creativity. We've lost touch with the joy of performing. Isn't that why people go into show business, because it's fun?

I think it's really important to take risks and to go out on a limb. Yes, you might fall flat on your face. And they might really not like what you do. But the alternative is that they might not remember you, because you're so safe that you just kind of blend into the woodwork. This is business is about playing. It's about having fun. If you can think of some brilliant creative way to bring your monologue to life, like the woman doing Portia did, I say, "Go for it."

27. "Can a monologue ever be too risky?"

Yes. I would advise against doing any monologues in which you directly threaten or intimidate the auditor. Never touch an auditor in a threatening way. You want to make them like you and want to work with you. This kind of behavior will produce quite the opposite result. If the character is menacing the another character in a monologue, you might take a step toward the auditors at that point, but nothing more. Also, do not touch the auditors in any kind of sexual or suggestive way. Above all, do not kiss the auditors. This may seem like very obvious, but there are some actors who have crossed this line at auditions. The auditors do not want to be man-handled. If you are doing a monologue which is a love scene, just imagine the other person is there. Do not involve the auditor.

 

 

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